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Trucking companies struggle to recruit drivers

Brook Bentley
bbentley@nnbw.biz
Trucks are lined up at the Alamo Petro Stopping Center in east Sparks while drivers take a break.
Sally Roberts / Norhern Nevada Business Weekly |

According to the Nevada Department of Transportation, truckers are the third largest motorist group using Nevada’s highways. Northern Nevada is home to many trucking companies as well as a number of retail distribution companies such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble that drive this trucking number up. In addition, Nevada regulation allows “triples” or three trailers per cab, which is something that California regulation does not allow, making Nevada a convenient hub for assembly and disassembly of loads headed both east and west. Further the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a 21 percent growth in the industry between 2010 and 2020, as well as salaries that are higher than the national average. Nevada is home to at least nine trucking schools for commercial driver’s license training; yet, trucker recruitment seems to be a growing problem in northern Nevada.

With what seems to be a great place for a truck-driving career why is the region struggling to recruit drivers into the field?

Marketing is an area where the industry seems to be struggling.

“We have been pathetically poor in getting young people into the industry. We need to tell our story,” Kevin Burch, first vice chairman of the American Trucking Associations and president of Jet Express Inc., said. There was a time when driving a bus or a truck was considered a somewhat glamorous position and that is what the industry needs to get back to. “A lot of the larger trucking companies are trying to make it friendlier to get into the industry,” he added. “Companies now may allow family members or even pets to be with the drivers.” There has also been an increase in women drivers by 6-8 percent over the past few years. Getting current facts and information out to the public could help increase the success of driver recruitment.

There may be other broad concerns that people who aren’t savvy with the trucking industry would need addressed before they would consider trucking as a career opportunity. Safety may be a reason. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration last year ordered an immediate shut down of a small Las Vegas-based company after an investigation revealed “numerous widespread violations of critical safety regulations,” according to the FMCSA website. Other companies outside of Nevada were found to be violating similar regulations within the same month.

FMCSA has been cracking down to try and stop unsafe trucking but often these companies pop back up as, what regulators call, “chameleon” carriers. Sometimes these companies will simply create a new name and continue using the same trucks and drivers, which, at times, means the safety issue at hand is not resolved. According to Brad Meyer, operations manager at NevCal, new companies are subjected to an audit from the Department of Transportation to try and stop these loopholes.

Alongside the question of safety is regulation. Drivers are, of course, required to have a commercial driver’s license as well as follow guidelines for logging time, maintenance and appropriate transportation of their cargo. Some of these regulations can be costly and time consuming, which at times can hurt profit for independent, leasing, and company employed drivers. In addition to these regulations, a driver’s driving record is of great importance to the hiring and recruitment process. If a driver has a poor record or an unsafe history, a trucking company’s insurance will not allow them to bring the driver on board.

“We are constantly looking for new drivers,” Brad Meyer of NevCal Trucking said. “We have had people join our team as a second career.”

This approach to bringing drivers can avoid the problem with a company’s insurance not allowing them to hire a driver.

Another piece that may be causing the struggle among trucker recruitment is talk of new technology. Daimler has a truck known as the Freightliner Inspiration that is said to make “long-haul road transportation safer, better for the planet, and cheaper.” How? Well, with Nevada’s highways to use, this truck is using a bigger better version of adaptive controls, like those we see in newer cars. The adaptive controls only take over on the highway but they regulate safe distance from other vehicles and help the truck stay in its lane. The technology is not fluid enough to replace a human; yet. The Freightliner is a test truck at this point, however Daimler and the Nevada DMV speculate with years of more testing in adverse conditions it could be safe for public roads. However, Mike Altimus, vice president and general manager at Peterbilt Truck Parts & Equipment, LLC and Silver State International is hoping the onset of technology will help with driver recruitment. “We help educate fleets on new technology (in trucks), that helps driver retention. These trucks have the same technology that cars have. Truck manufacturers have been helping the driver shortage by making trucks more comfortable to drive.”

One positive resource the industry has is Trucking Moves America Forward. Part of their mission is, “to establish a long-term industry-wide movement to create a positive image for the industry, to ensure that policymakers and the public understand the importance of the trucking industry to the nation’s economy, and to build the political and grassroots support necessary to strengthen and grow the industry in the future.”

Overall, there is optimism for the industry resolving problems with driver recruitment. Time will tell if the Northern Nevada trucking industry will see growth with their driver recruitment.